Michael Tylo - Demystified

June, 1982
Afternoon TV

Quinton McCord is a soap opera character like no other soap opera character and The Guiding Light is making the most of this unique creation brought to life by the talented actor Michael Tylo. A nineteenth century Gothic-style figure inhabiting the twentieth century, Quinton is a man of mystery within whom good or evil might very well lurk...at least as this piece is being written.

Michael isn't much help, if you're looking for solid clues as to whether or not the character will take off in one direction or another. "I have a good hunch whether or not Quinton is a good guy or a bad guy, but I don't want to say anything that could ruin the fun for the viewers," he replies slyly, looking every bit like the preppy, all-American type he's delighted he isn't playing on a daytime serial. Michael is partial to cords, crew neck sweaters and sneakers when he's just being his plain old self, but he loves getting the chance to strut around in jodhpurs, a velvet smoking jacket, a silk shirt and a bulky fur coat as Quinton. And he loves it even more when Nola, Quinton's companion/secretary, takes off on one of her flights of fancy, giving him the opportunity to cavort about in true nineteenth century style.

"I'm happy to say that Quinton is not what I call the typical white bread soap opera character, those bland doctor/lawyer types you see so many of," Michael points out. "I don't mean to be immodest, but I've always enjoyed playing swashbuckling heroes, the kinds of roles Errol Flynn played so well. I enjoy these period pieces. Quinton has certain qualities that potentially make him a heroic and romantic figure. Certainly, Nola sees him in those terms, which gives me a unique opportunity to do all kinds of interesting things, like playing Mr. Rochester in her 'Jane Eyre' fantasy, and Heathcliffe in her 'Wuthering Heights' dream, or scenes from 'Rebecca' and 'Now Voyager.' But just as himself, Quinton's a fascinating character to play. I like the fact that nobody can quite figure him out. He's even been a suspect in every local murder case. I honestly can't say for sure how Quinton will turn out, since I don't get the scripts all that far in advance. But I'd have to say that although he's definitely around for a purpose, he's too much of a red herring, if you know what I mean, to be truly evil."

Michael played another wealthy, dashing figure last year on Another World but the name of Lord Peter Belton. The role lasted just a few airings because a new team of writers killed the storyline. But Michael finds it interesting to reflect on why casting directors of daytime serials tend to see him as that type of character. Michael's theory is that his training is responsible. This Detroit native earned a BFA and MFA from Wayne State University, where he was constantly appearing in several plays at once from among the revolving repertory. From there, he headed for stints at such renowned regional theatres as the Missouri Repertory, Charles Theatre, Alley Theatre, Charles Theatre, and the Long Dwarf Theatre, where he essayed numerous leading roles in classics. Michael seems born to classical stage and roles like Quinton McCord and Lord Peter Belton, to play characters almost larger than life. Certainly, he always would be the first to admit his training sharpened his skills and developed his talent, giving him what he calls "the polish" necessary to make a living at acting.

Although Michael was always drawn to acting, he took many detours along the way to becoming a professional actor. In fact, it wasn't until the ripe old age of 25 that he made the decision to pursue acting as a career. He explains why: "I loved acting more than anything in the world. There was never a time during high school or my years as an undergraduate when I wasn't acting in a school or a community theatre production. But acting never seemed like the kind of thing you tried to earn a living at. It was so insecure. I also assumed my parents would be disappointed in me if I decided to become an actor, especially my dad, who had worked his way up the ladder to become a very successful plumbing contractor."

Along the way finally making the commitment to becoming a professional actor, Michael tried just about everything. He was pre-law, pre-med, a journalism major, even a seminarian for a spell, none of which ever felt right to him. One day after much soul-searching, he sat his father down for a long talk. With much trepidation, Michael broke the news that he'd decided to go back to school to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees in theatre. And much to his surprise, his dad gave him nothing but encouragement. "I couldn't believe my ears," remembers Michael. "'Go do it. Just go do it!', was his immediate response. 'Be an actor, if that's what you really want to do,' he continued, adding, 'I certainly never expected you to follow in my footsteps and go into the plumbing business.' I think perhaps in the back of my mind, I had thought that's exactly what he expected. But I had also tried going into business with my dad, and he told me that he knew I was miserable. So that was that - I had finally made the commitment."

Besides talent, Michael possessed more than the requisite amount of sheer chutzpah required to make your way in show business. That was immediately evident upon his departure from graduate school. Immediately he was offered seasons at two of the leading regional theatres in the country, the Alley Theatre and the Missouri Repertory Theatre. The latter's offer was particularly sweet, since leads in two plays were promised. Unfortunately, he was also offered a paltry $75 a week intern's salary. Without hesitating to fully consider the ramifications of his words, Michael told them, "I really want to take the job. But I'm getting married soon and there's no way I can survive on an intern's pay." The woman on the other end of the telephone asked for two hours to give the situation some thought. Then, exactly two hours later, she called back and offered Michael what at that time seemed like an astronomical sum - $218. Looking back, Michael still laughs at his daring manoeuvre. "I bluffed it without even a minute to figure out how I planned to negotiate. The idea just came to me in a flash." Sounding very pleased with himself to this day as he relates the story, Michael adds, "At the time, I wasn't even engaged. My girl Deborah and I had been dating on and off for a while, but we hadn't even thought about marriage."

The Deborah Michael is referring to happens to be sitting right by his side during the course of this interview. Apparently, once the idea of marriage popped into his head, it didn't strike Michael as such a bad idea after all. "What could I do? I had to marry her after I told the Missouri Rep I was a groom-to-be," he quips. Not so. He could have bluffed his way out of that one too, no doubt, living with his lovely lady outside of the bounds of holy matrimony and nobody need have been wiser. But, getting married suddenly did strike Michael as a great idea, once he had time to mull over the ramifications.

It's now been four years since Michael and Deborah Eckols tied the knot, and they still think getting married was a great idea. Lest anyone think Michael felt obliged to wed Deborah once he's gone public with the notion, however, he gallantly points out, "I pursued her relentlessly. I was hot after that." When they met as fellow acting students during graduate school, neither thought the fact that both were in the same profession would cause any problems. Basically, both Michael and Deborah still feel the understanding of the unique pressures an actor experiences they each bring to the relationship is a major plus. But both also acknowledge competition has reared its ugly head on occasion.

"People say that since one partner is a woman and the other a man, you're not competing for the same jobs, but it's still hard if one person is working and the other isn't," Deborah comments. Michael concurs. "I remember once I was going through kind of a complacent stage. I was down in Houston, where Deborah lived with her family and working in construction in between acting jobs and feeling pretty happy and unpressured. One night, the phone rings and Deborah's offered a job doing a play in Kentucky. Well, the next day I was on the phone to New York calling an agent who wanted to see me. I was happy for her...don't get me wrong. But it was definitely in response to her getting the job that spurred me on.

But the bottom line is that both wish each other success. Deborah confesses that now is a particularly difficult time for her, since Michael's career is taking off, while she finds herself pounding the pavement still waiting for her big break. She'd love to do a daytime serial, since that would mean staying put, as well as the steady work and recognition. Michael and Deborah have been apart more than they've been together during the years of their marriage, they admit. But each feels very strongly that this is the price they're willing to pay. Says Deborah, "I think one of the advantages of us both being actors is that someone else probably couldn't understand how important it is to take a job that requires leaving home for a long stretch. Only a fellow actor could understand how much you could love him and still want to be with him, while still feeling it's more important to seize the opportunity to further your career. So when one or the other of us has gotten a good out of town offer, we've picked up and gone. f course our phone bills have been extraordinary, and we always have managed to get together for weekends here and there. But that's just the way it has to be for now."

Michael is nodding as his wife talks. Then, when she finishes, he simply adds, "Deborah has to have her shot. She has her own career, which is just as important to her as mine is to me. I not only accept that, I love that about her. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with her."

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